For us, climbing Mount Kinabalu would be our first taste of trekking a mountain – a first step before we move on to Mount Kilimanjaro in majestic Africa, an item on our never-ending bucket list. So, after much hesitation and over-thinking, I said yes to the climb – and it was the best decision I had ever made.
Scaling a mountain is an experience like no other. It is also no walk in the park. The sweat and aches that one has to go through before arriving at the summit are enough to discourage many climbers. In fact, on my journey, I saw many climbers turn back halfway from sheer exhaustion and fear of what’s to come.
Despite the challenges, I pushed forward, and boy was I glad I did! Here are 5 reasons why:
It Makes You Stronger
I trained for my hike up Mount Kinabalu by hiking hills close to home and running to boost my endurance levels. I also conditioned my muscles through daily yoga practices. In short, I felt ready to climb.
But the reality couldn’t be any more different. Training, however much of it you do before an actual climb, goes only as far as to prepare you for a climb. It doesn’t prepare you for the climb. The mountain, with its elements, is different on every assent. Our climb coincided with the tail end of Typhoon Lan, which meant that we battered through 6 hours of unforgiving storm, wind, and rain during our journey. Rain meant that water kept gushing down from the top of the mountain to its foot, rendering all its slopes and steps slippery and wet.
At my weakest point, I looked up and saw the never-ending hill that I still had to climb. The choices I had were apparent – turn back or dig deep and continue on. When physical strength has failed, mental strength will get you through – and you come out stronger on the other side.
It Affords You A Lesson in Humility
When you find yourself in the presence of the environment, you realize only one thing – and that is that you are but a fallible human being. Against a majestic mountain, your strengths and everything that you define yourself to be begin to pale in comparison.
There is no such thing as being fearless on the mountain. In fact, there was plenty of fear. I feared each step – wondering whether it would be this one step that would cause my next fall. I feared each gush of wind, hoping that this won’t be the wind that caused me to stumble.
But that fear was an important lesson in humility that I will take with me through life. In that instance, I felt in awe. I understood in full view my own shortcomings. The higher I hiked, the more I realized that while it was my decision to summit the mountain, it is Mother Nature who decides whether I could. Everything pertaining to the climb was dependent on the environment. Were the winds favorable? Would the storm calm down? Nothing was in my control. I am always at the mercy of my surroundings.
It Strengthens Your Bond with Others
When you place a group of individuals from differing backgrounds out in the wilderness with each other, it is very easy to see how they will cultivate a closer relationship with each other. In the great outdoors, our everyday distractions like phones and entertainment disappear, leaving in its absence an abundance of nature. Suddenly, we find ourselves depending on each other for social connectivity.
Trekking with a group is a great way to bond with your fellow travelers. They create a great support system to help you through difficult climbs and adverse weather. When you trek as a group, there is an unspoken rule that you inevitably wait for each other. This allows you to build empathy for your fellow traveler – motivating and encouraging them on their journey, but at the same time understanding their difficulties and challenges.
It Empowers Women
As a woman, climbing a mountain felt empowering. The notion of being able to do anything you set your mind to becomes extremely apparent once you succeed in scaling a mountain.
For me, the lesson of empowerment was awe-inspiring. I had always believed that an individual could achieve anything – regardless of their gender. However, believing it in theory and believing in reality were two very different things. Growing up in a patriarchal society, where women were deemed weaker than men, it was always easy to fall into the trap of believing that extreme sports were a man’s game.
Yet, there I was at the foot of the mountain who didn’t recognize the difference of gender. Whoever you were, male or female, old or young, weak or strong, your path up was the same. There was no difference in route and no changes in your environment according to your gender. You trekked the same path as your male counterparts. When you reach your destination, you will come to the realization that yes, you can. You are strong. Empowered.
It Gives You the Chance to Give Back
On our trek, we were amazed by the strength and knowledge of our local guides and porters. The local guides were equipped with only an umbrella and shorts, as they got ready for the hike – a stark contrast to us, decked in our hiking pants, windbreakers, and hiking shoes. On our way up, we watched in awe as the porters make their way up and down the mountain carrying up to 50kg of goods ranging from food supplies to building supplies. Some of these porters were young and some were old – but they were all locals who lived near the mountain, working for a day’s worth of living expenses.
More often than not, treks up mountains in most parts of the world provide the services of guides and porters – many of whom are local to the land. As travelers and trekkers, you have the opportunity to give back to the community and help support their livelihood by engaging in their services. Where you can, do choose to hire local help. Although you are likely not required to, you can also pay tips to your guides and porters at the end of your hike. After all, the journey up and down any mountain is tough and often unforgiving.
Ready to take a leap of faith and discover Mother Nature in all her beauty? Go on a safari in Tanzania!